We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The state fines businesses for recycling

Shane Greer reports on his attempt to get Westminster City Council to recycle business waste. It turns out that the council, while willing to collect his office’s waste, will not recycle any of that waste – and will fine him if he puts his waste in recycling facilities aimed at domestic users. That sounds awfully like punishing businesses that try to be green.

The problem with councils running recycling services is that they are inefficient and fail to innovate. They use outdated methods that are expensive, and end up recycling in the same way as British Leyland used to make Austin Minis (at a loss).

In large parts of Ireland, a recent report by Gordon Hector points out, the state has let the free market deal with refuse collection: individual customers choose from private companies and pay directly, rather than through council tax. Competition has meant that technologies and methods unknown in the UK have been deployed. Greyhound, one of Ireland’s larger waste companies, recycles 87% of the rubbish it receives (because recycling is good for its profits). The best-performing council in the UK only recycles 55% of waste; the lowest 11%.

This might not compute with environmental activists, but yet again we see that the free market is greener than state control.

– Update: On another brain-dead environmental issue, have a look what the council at Basingstoke is doing to destroy the local environment and harm taxpayers simultaneously, by pushing development into the beautiful Lodden Valley, instead of on the bod-standard land it already owns in Manydown.

Freedom of movement – “secure beneath the watching eyes”

Anyone worried by Natalie’s posting below should be aware that you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet. Tom Griffin of The Green Ribbon has obtained a full listing of the information it is intended to collect (and distribute among various authorities) concerning those buying tickets to move from any one of Britain, the Irish Republic, and Northern Ireland to any of the others.

There has been a common travel area since St Patrick, and this was formalised in the 20th century when the countries of Britain and Ireland came incompletely apart. Now it seems both governments are in effect conspiring to introduce internal passports and replace a common travel area with a common surveillance area.

[hat-tip: spyblog]

Irish Liberty Forum

Some fine folks have set up a message board called the Irish Liberty Forum for anybody interested in libertarian ideas, with a focus on Ireland (the name is a dead give away). So… check it out and feel free to report on the quality of conversation.

Now that the Freedom Institute is sadly defunct (it went belly up last year), there is great need for some genuine pro-liberty voices in Ireland to counter the paleo-Marxist Indymedia crap that seems to be in such evidence there.

I disagree with what you wear, but will defend your right to do so

There’s a new social trend in Belfast whereby women are dropping their children off to school still in their pajamas. This has got the local worthies of Belfast worried, and a little peeved.

In a bulletin to parents, Mr McGuinness wrote: “Over recent months the number of adults leaving children at school and collecting children from school dressed in pyjamas has risen considerably.

“While it is not my position to insist on what people wear, or don’t, I feel that arriving at the school in pyjamas is disrespectful to the school and a bad example is set to children.”

Women walking round Belfast estates in all-day pyjama gear is a phenomenon that has been well documented by Robin Livingstone, a columnist in the Andersonstown News, but until now it has been confined to the west of the city.

Mr Livingstone said that he first identified All Day Pyjama Syndrome (ADPS) in 2003. He knows a student at the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education who is writing a dissertation on the subject.

The women are colloquially known as “pyjama mamas” or “Millies”. Their pyjama ensembles are often complemented by large, gold hoop earrings known as “budgies” – because such cage birds could swing from them. They also sport “scrunchies” to create the “Turf Lodge facelift”, in which the hair is scraped so tightly to the back of the head that it pulls the facial skin taut.

There is even a dress hierarchy among those suffering from APDS: the wearing of silk-effect, baggy pyjamas with fluffy, mule-type slippers contrasts, for example, with the traditional dressing gown and hair rollers.

Bloggers, who of course are famous for working in their pajamas, should rally around the millies, and defend their right to drop off their offspring at school, no matter how unsightly it may appear.

First they came for the millies….

Health insurance takes a turn for the worse

The Irish government has this week succeeded in their plans to help restore a monopoly in health insurance, as the main private insurer was yesterday forced to withdraw from business, leaving the state behemoth with only one tiny rival left to prevent it from controlling the market. Risk equalisation payments which cost them a million €uro every week left BUPA with no choice but to leave.

For those unacquainted with the health insurance market, risk equalisation is a device designed to underpin community rating: a regulation of health insurance whereby the level of risk a consumer poses to an insurer must not affect the premium paid; i.e. everyone must be offered the same products at the same price regardless of their age, gender, or personal health characteristics. A sceptical observer might wonder why a healthy young person should have to pay the same as a sick geriatric, or in what sense this is really insurance at all. Well, the justification given is that, without this scheme, and the associated regulations of lifetime cover and open enrolment, no-one would be willing to offer sick or old people a health plan they could afford. Therefore, the argument goes, it is acceptable that young people are overcharged in order to prevent this. Community rating is designed to produce inter-generational subsidies, and is a clear example of cradle-to-grave statism.

However, community rating alone does not fully prevent competition – it is possible for more than one insurance company to offer community-rated products simultaneously, as indeed was the case in Ireland for the last ten years. It’s a heavily regulated market (imagine if car insurers were not allowed to discriminate according to the risk profile and vehicles of their customers, or house insurance had to ignore the likelihood of flooding or earthquakes in any particular area), but we proved that it can exist sustainably.

So, to really cut out competition, there are several other things you have to do. The first thing that the Irish government did for the last number of years was to give its dominant state provider preferential treatment with respect to the requirements of its solvency reserves. While that did hurt the private operators, it did not totally force them out of business. So our supposedly pro-market government decided to trigger risk equalisation: a device which is theoretically meant to correct discrepancies between customer bases by forcing insurers with younger customers to subsidise their rivals with older, costlier, riskier members. In our case, what it actually did was threaten the main private insurer with having to subsidise its wealthy state rival with nearly three times its operating profits, for little discernible reason and despite clear, logical protests from professional economists in Ireland’s major universities (for example listen to this file).

The result of all of this: BUPA is forced to quit, leaving increased power to the state company. According to leaked documents, this company is preparing to increase its premiums by 15% each year over the next three years, clearly exploiting its position of power to the fullest. The public has been duped, and has absolutely no clue.

What’s more, no-one is going to stand up for them. An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern revealed his lack of understanding of the issues by launching an ignorant attack against BUPA. The powerful trade union controlling the state monopoly then announced that it would fight against any efforts to break up this company into competing units. And the mainly left-wing opposition has, predictably, come up short in its handling of this issue.

My question is this: what would you call a private business that was able to intimidate and then forcefully eliminate anyone who dared to compete with it? That’s right, you would call it a highly organised criminal outfit. So why is the government any different?

A hot day in Belfast

Although I have lived in Belfast for a very long time, I have rarely written about it, primarily because of hate-mongering gits who turn any mention of Northern Ireland into an excuse for personal attack and pointless flaming. So… if you are one of them, go away. This article will bore you and any attempt to discuss politics will be deleted on sight.

Few of our readers have the slightest knowledge of Belfast outside of what is written over drinks in the Europa Hotel bar or from live media feeding frenzies where a handful of rioters get photographed, filmed and interviewed by a small army of bleeding-lede starved media mavens. This creates a distorted view of our town and has virtually no relationship to the daily lives of anyone who lives here. The ‘exciting’ Belfast is long gone. This is not to say we do not have some problems with hooligans, particularly around July 12th…

Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
Reporters at the Europa missed this one!

What the reporters do not bother to show you is that this is an incredibly beautiful place. When we get a perfect day like today, It is simply stunning. That is what this article is about. Nothing newsworthy. Nothing political. I simply went shopping, about a mile or two of walking on foot, and took a few photos to share with you. Since the small size allowable on the front page does not do the images justice, I have made them clickable for those who really want to get the full impact of the high resolution images.

Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved

The geography of Belfast is dominated by the Belfast Lough and the hills on either side.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
There are a fair few churches about.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
Even a wee neighborhood shopping center looks nice in the summer sunlight.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
There are parks and parklets everywhere.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved
There is a bird sanctuary just the other side of this railway bridge.


Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved

If you had any doubts about the location of these photos, the Hercules and Goliath cranes at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in the far distance beyond the bird blanketed tidal flats would dispel it.

If there is any point to this article other than a hot day diversion, it is that journalists are trained to see and report what is ugly and mean in life while bloggers are free to show what is fun and beautiful and good with nary a worry about getting sacked for it.

Now… where did I put those extra icecube trays?

The Irish ‘bogosphere’ covers the ‘festivities’ in Dublin

Slugger O’Toole has a picture and a round up of links of what the ‘bogosphere’ is saying if you are interesting in what happened in Dublin.

A new forum for Irish and British dialog

I received a web launch reception invite via email a couple days ago and had no particular idea why I was on the list. However, as is the case in the music world and a capital offense in that of journalism, one never, ever, passes up free food and drink.

Much to my surprise, this launch of the Britain and Ireland web site for contemporary conversations is the brain child of the British Council and our good friend Mick Fealty (Slugger O’Toole).

The new site will encourage discussion on historical and current entwinement (or entanglement) of Irish and British affairs with monthly articles as talking points. The site was introduced by Trevor Ringland and keynoted by footballer Niall Quinn. I am sure the ‘discussion as a contact sport’ I expect on this site will make even a rugby game look tame, let alone league football.

If you are interested in this part of the world, I am sure this will become a ‘must read’.

Mick Fealty practices being an amputee and nailed
to a cross in preparation for discussions on Britain and Ireland
Photo: Dale Amon, all rights reserved.

Pondering Ulster

In the last couple days I have written, and then deleted unpublished, several articles about the IRA’s much ballyhooed decommissioning (or ‘decommissioning’, depending on what you believe to be the truth) of its weapons. In short, I am not sure what I think.

To try and make head or tail of what is going on, I have been hanging out at Slugger O’Toole.

And I still cannot figure out if it is cause to celebrate or just another ploy.

Please note: the Provisional IRA still exists

Forgive me if I am not breaking out the champagne just yet at the announcement that the ethnic collectivists of the IRA have declared their ‘armed campaign is over’. Of course the fact their ‘decommissioning’ of arms will take place in private, in marked contrast to the indecent haste with which the UK government has started very publicly ripping down its fortifications, just conforms my view that Blair is a credulous fool.

Contrary to the woolly impression some of the media’s dafter talking heads are giving (I really must stop watching early morning TV, bad for the blood pressure), the IRA is not disbanding and unless I see large piles of semtex being burned in front of Stormont, I very much doubt anything more than a token number of already unserviceable weapons and expired explosives will be put beyond their reach as an organisation.

I may not be a huge fan of the ethnic collectivists of the DUP either, but they are the ones who seem to me to be exhibiting the most appropriate amount of continuing distain for Sinn Fein/IRA and so are offering only highly contingent acknowledgement of this latest ‘breakthrough’.

My guess is there is a lot less to this that meets the eye. Like the song says: “Don’t believe the hype.”

The earthquake in Northern Ireland

Whilst Britain remains fixated on the aftermath of Tony Blair’s unprecedented third term victory against their intellectually bankrupt and dependably inept opponents, it would behove people in Britain to pay a bit more attention to the electoral earthquake which shook Ulster which has resulted in David Trimble’s relatively moderate Ulster Unionist Party has almost completely collapsing in favour of Ian Paisley Democratic Unionist Party.

Now that the only two significant political players locally are the two extremist parties from either side of the sectarian divide, things look like they are about to get dramatically more… interesting. The message from the Northern Ireland’s protestant majority seems pretty damn clear to me but is anyone actually listening? I have a feeling I am going to be spending a lot more time keeping tabs on what get said on Slugger O’Toole, that most indispensable source of insights for all things Northern Irish, to see how things develop.

On how a good professor made a compleat arse of himself

I usually steer clear of ‘local’ stories because I will almost certainly be pilloried no matter what I say. But this is just too silly to pass up.

It seems that a sociology professor, one not from a Northern Ireland university, thinks the Red Hand of Ulster is a sectarian symbol. In most cases I would just roll my eyes and mutter about ‘outsiders’ who can not possibly be expected to understand a place as confusing as Northern Ireland.

This is not the case for the Red Hand. In fact, it is partly a symbol of some of my own ancestors: The O’Neill clan. The ‘Kings’ of Ireland. My maternal grandpa was an O’Neill and there is a wee red hand in that family coat of arms.

Now, if you please Herr Sociologist, tell me why you believe the Red Hand of Ulster is merely a sectarian Unionist symbol? Could it be you have actually never read any Northern Ireland history?

We return now to our regularly scheduled programming… and yes I do intend to post a number of photo stories from Manhattan.